Historical regard: how tertiary art and design education were valued in the early twentieth century

Elise M Whetter (Federation University)
2017 Conference

Financial calamities during the last two centuries lent impetus to arguments for increased technical training that would facilitate industrial competitiveness and growth. Yet economic struggles were not the only incentives for the teaching of art and design, which also included social, cultural, political and philosophical motivations.

As global connections were forged, and transnational exchange was rendered ordinary, many countries utilised visual culture, and therefore art education, to highlight commercial differences and reinforce national identities. Building the visual vocabulary of Australians became particularly pertinent as international styles began to enter the country. It was also commonly believed the taste of whole social groups could be cultivated through the training of individuals.

The acts of designing and making were considered a nexus for mind, eyes and hands. The knowledge and skills developed were deemed portable, useful in life beyond art, and occasionally on par with numeracy and literacy. For the individual, there is an innate value to designing and creating in and of itself.

This paper will explore how art and design education were valued historically through the incentives for technical and applied art training during the early twentieth century. The Ballarat Technical Art School will serve as a mooring from which to explore shared concepts of non-economic value in art and design education.

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About the author

Elise is a PhD candidate and graphic designer with a long connection to Federation University Australia (FedUni) and its antecedent institutions. Elise graduated from the university in 1992 and returned as a sessional lecturer before establishing a graphic design studio with her husband in 1998. The university is a key client. Elise’s thesis explores the influences and impact of one of these institutions, the Ballarat Technical Art School, with particular reference to design and applied art education during the early twentieth century.